You are here

Planet Pairings

August 16, 2014

Two pairs of planets are teaming up the next few days — Venus and Jupiter at dawn, and Mars and Saturn in the evening. The morning planets are much brighter, but they’re also much lower in the sky, which makes finding them a little harder.

Mars and Saturn are low in the southwest as night falls. Mars shines yellow-orange, with pale golden Saturn to its upper left. Mars and Saturn are almost equally bright right now — the difference between them is just a few percent.

Planetary brightness depends on several factors, including the size of the planet, how much light it reflects, and its distance from Earth and the Sun. Saturn is almost 20 times the diameter of Mars, and its cloudy surface is much more reflective. But Saturn is about eight times farther than Mars is, which balances the scales. Mars is moving away from us in a hurry, so it’ll fade more quickly over the next few weeks. The two planets will move closer together over the next few evenings, and will pass each other in about a week.

Venus and Jupiter are the brightest planets, with Venus the brightest of all. It’s reigned as the “morning star” for most of the year. Tomorrow, it stands just above Jupiter, which is the second-brightest pinpoint in the night sky. Venus is tiny compared to Jupiter, but it’s much closer to both Earth and the Sun, so it looks brighter.

Venus and Jupiter will stand almost side by side on Monday morning, and we’ll have more about that tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.